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Public’s aid sought in revamping Unicoi County Memorial Hospital

The first official announcement from a new foundation intends to change the face of health care in Unicoi County.
Members of the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Foundation announced a $2 million project to renovate Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Friday at the Unicoi home of Janet and Jim Ayers.
“It’s not just a change in the building, it’s a change in the care,” UCMH CEO Jim Pate said. “We’re not doing it for the sake of doing it.”
Pate, along with UCMH board of control vice chair Todd Love, said the project will change the hospital inside and out, making it more modern and accessible to visitors.
The renovation will include interior changes such as the addition of a food court-style cafeteria and a chapel, while the outside main entrance will change completely.
“I see it as a community project,” UCMH Foundation member Janet Ayers said. “We are not doing it for the sake of doing it.”
Ayers, Pate and Love presented conceptual renderings of the facade during the event, giving guests a glimpse of the scope of the project.
Pate and Love said 40 percent of the total cost of the project will be from the planned move of Greenway Circle to expand the main entrance of the hospital.
The circle will be cut, in essence, bringing the now-centrally placed war memorial closer to the roadway.
Love said the memorial itself will not be changed in any way, and he said the new road location would only bring more attention to the memorial.
Artist’s renderings also showed an improved and expanded parking lot near the main entrance, and a covered carport walkway at the main doors.
Pate and Love said a timetable for the project is not set, and the project is still in the funding stages.
Jim Ayers, founder of the Ayers Foundation, stressed the importance of having a modern community hospital, saying it will take all of Unicoi County pitching in to see the project realized.
“It’s an asset to the community, don’t let it die,” Ayers said. “It’s a community project — everybody pitching in.”
He also said the project will receive funding from the Ayers Foundation, but only if community support is in place first.
“It’s going to take several gifts more than $100,” Ayers said. “We all have to dig down.”
“If that happens,” he said, pausing for effect, “the Ayers foundation will bring some West Tennessee money in here.”
“Well — Tennessee money,” a smiling Janet Ayers corrected.
Jim Ayers is a successful West Tennessee businessman. His wife, Janet, is the former administrator at Erwin Health Care Center and a former president of the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce.
Love said it was the perfect time for a project like the one proposed, saying costs could be kept down due to the current economic climate.
Pate also added background to the presentation by explaining previous renovations and purchases he felt prepared the hospital for a facelift.
“Over the last five years we spent $6.2 million on technology,” Pate said.
He said the hospital was “state of the art,” and could technologically rival larger hospitals.
But, he also said the millions spent on infrastructure left UCMH in need of financial support.
Pate said the hospital received no outside funding from the county or state and, after upgrades in equipment, the hospital “needed some help.”
“We try to be as careful with our money as we can,” Pate said. “We looked for people who could help us.”
He said it took five to six weeks to get the UCMH Foundation going, and he was pleased to formally announce the board of directors.
The UCMH Foundation board of directors members are: Todd Love, Dr. Frank Wegman, Janet Ayers, Ellie Daniels, Missy Farnor, Brian Glover, Renea Jones-Rogers, Greg Tipton and Jim Pate.
Janet Ayers said she was delighted with the project and was excited to be involved, saying the role of a community hospital is huge in a small town.
“The hospital is the hub of the community in a small town,” Ayers said.
Foundation members said the project is currently in the donation and planning states, and no project start date has been set.